Sergei Eisenstein’s first feature film, Strike, serves as a prime example of the revolutionary techniques and artistic vision of the Soviet Montage Movement. Strike chronicles the events surrounding an unsuccessful labor strike led by factory workers in pre-revolutionary Russia, building to a climactic clash between the bourgeois power structure and the common people. The narrative, like many film narratives of Soviet Montage, is intended to be political propaganda in favor of the Bolshevik Revolution.
Not only is Strike’s narrative characteristic of Soviet films of the time, but the editing and mis-en-scene are also very typical of Soviet Montage. The movie begins with shots of an elaborate factory, showing both the mechanical parts and diligent laborers working as a smooth-running machine. The workers themselves are rarely seen as distinguishable individuals, but rather as a collective group of people, representing the entire working class, and thus a large majority of the Russian population. This same principle of the “collective” also applies to the brutal police officers and merciless military leaders, who, as a whole, represent the Czarist regime in the film.
Perhaps Strike’s most defining characteristic is its editing. There is very little use of continuity, and most shots are brief and do not connect fluidly with time or space. Eisenstein frequently uses overlapping editing to put emphasis on certain actions, and the use of intercutting helps enhance the themes and underlying political motivations of the film. Most famously, Eisenstein juxtaposes the massacre of the factory workers with the slaughtering of a bull.
This is a particularly well-crafted film of the silent era, and the dramatic (and rather heavy-handed) symbolism works well for to reinforce the film’s political purpose. The ending is especially effective, implementing visceral imagery to elicit an emotional response in favor of the revolution. However, the lack of continuity editing and discernable characters to identify with make the narrative somewhat hard to follow at times.
By the end of the film, one can have a strong grasp of the general story arc, but still feel clueless as to why certain actions or decisions (such as the burning of the liquor store) are made. Perhaps Eisenstein wishes to portray the chaos of revolutions in action, and audience confusion is a necessary effect. Nonetheless, certain elements of the revolution, when not accompanied by intertitles, leave the audience in the dark. Despite the lack of narrative clarity, the film has been highly influential among film theorists and historians. Overall, Strike is very entertaining and an exemplary representation of the Soviet Montage Movement.
Rating: ★★★★ out of 5
Strike is available to rent or purchase via Amazon here.